Jordan Clarkson reveals early connection with Chris Ross, Gabe Norwood

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Inside the Game: Jordan Clarkson (8:02)

Jordan Clarkson talks about wearing a Gilas jersey for the first and his hopes of doing so again in the future. (8:02)

Before most Filipinos even became familiar with Jordan Clarkson and his roots, a couple of Filipino-American PBA stars had already been in touch with him back when he was just a young prospect aspiring to make it to the NBA.

"[Chris Ross] and Gabe (Norwood), I've been talking to them for a while. I've talked to Chris since I was in high school, and then I talked to Gabe while I was in college," Clarkson revealed on Thursday's episode of The Game on ONE News.

The pull between him and the two stars was natural. Clarkson played high school basketball in San Antonio, Texas like Ross, who in turn mentioned the young combo guard to Norwood.

Norwood later reached out to Clarkson, who merited some attention ahead of the 2014 NBA Draft after a solid junior season with Missouri in the NCAA's Division I's Southeastern Conference (SEC). One of their earliest conversations was about a pair of shoes Norwood wanted the NBA aspirant to wear.

"He told me that these Kobes were coming out, and it was Philippine edition," he shared. "He was like, 'Man, you've got to wear these, you've got to wear them through the Draft process.' And I did. I ran those to the ground 'til they had holes in them. I was just trying to represent and show love. It was my favorite shoe too, the Kobes, to hoop in. It was just great, having that connection."

Clarkson was perhaps pertaining to the Nike Kobe 9 EM Philippines, a special 2014 release that takes elements of the banig, the Philippine jeepney, the local barangay courts, and the tsinelas to show the special relationship that Filipinos have with the game of basketball.

"When he declared for the Draft, he just happened to be training with my college teammate, my roommate, one of my best friends growing up, in New York City, getting ready for the Draft. That's how I sent the shoes out to him," Norwood bared.

That exchange paved some paths that would lead Clarkson to where he is now. The 28-year-old gunner is currently one of the frontrunners for the 2021 NBA Sixth Man of the Year award as a key cog for the playoff-bound Utah Jazz, but he also represents a greater hope for a nation that continues to throw all of its love and support for one of its greatest ambassadors.

"I really just tried to stay in his ear, to let him know and understand the support that he has here in the country, and how that's going to be with him for the rest of his career," said Norwood.

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Gabe Norwood on Jordan Clarkson

Gabe Norwood discusses his friendship with Jordan Clarkson.

"Yes sir, I feel it all the time," Clarkson beamed. "I always see the flag, 'Puso', everything. Just love and support every time I check my phone. It's amazing."

So far, Clarkson has only suited up for Gilas Pilipinas once -- in the 2018 Asian Games. Results notwithstanding, he was greatly impactful for a men's national team that finished a respectable fifth in a field of 13. In four games, Clarkson averaged 26.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.0 steal in four games.

"It was awesome to finally have him in a Gilas jersey. I think the whole country was anticipating it for a while," said Norwood, one of the figures from that 2018 Gilas team in Jakarta, Indonesia.

"To kind of come full circle and actually have the jersey on and to see him out there and the fun he was having, and the freedom he was playing with and the love that he was playing with for the country, it was inspiring. And I'm very honored to be a part of the team that he first put on a jersey on with."

Clarkson credited Norwood for making a hasty transition easy. "Sometimes we'd speak Tagalog in some of the pre-game stuff and I wouldn't know what's going on, so he was helping me kind of get situated in that part and introducing me to the guys, making me feel comfortable. It's always good knowing somebody when you're in a group of good people. Once I got to know everybody else, it just felt like love."

His presence nearly helped propel the Philippines past China in his first game for the flag in that tournament. The loss put Gilas on a collision course in the quarterfinals with South Korea, who certainly relished the challenge of facing -- and beating -- a team with a legitimate NBA standout.

Today, Clarkson says he believes Gilas could have easily won gold in 2018.

"We did a great job. I thought we could've won that whole thing, but we'll get another shot against China and everybody else again," he expressed.

When Clarkson will get that chance again remains to be seen. Stringent FIBA rules and a busy NBA schedule has kept him from suiting up for the national team again, but the Jazz guard said he's certainly raring to don the Gilas jersey once more in the future.

"That's definitely something I want to do. Hopefully everything lines up and I'm free during that time and that moment, and I'm able to go put that Gilas jersey back on and go win us something," he said.

If Clarkson is somehow available for some upcoming big tournaments -- like the 2023 FIBA World Cup to be hosted here in the Philippines -- Norwood believes the NBA star's presence on the roster is going to be a massive shot in the arm for the Filipinos.

"The way he's playing right now, if he continues to get better, he's going to put us on a whole 'nother level in terms of international play, especially in Asia. Internationally, I think he just ups everybody's game. With the young talent that we have, that's all those guys need -- a little push," said Norwood.